Monday musings on Australian literature: Martin Boyd, Writer or Potter?

Martin Boyd Pottery

Martin Boyd Pottery

Last week my reading group discussed Martin Boyd’s A difficult young man, which I read and reviewed a couple of years ago. This weekend, Mr Gums and I went, with another couple, to the Grand Opening and River Music Fair at Australian Pottery at Bemboka. Why do I mention this? Because, in another one of those synchronicities, pottery by Martin Boyd was on display in Australian Pottery’s exhibition which, this season, features commercial pottery of, primarily, the 1950s-1970s.

I had to buy a piece of course – but I was a little intrigued because while I knew some of the Boyds were potters, I hadn’t realised that Martin Boyd was. There, however, his name was – clear as day – on the bottom of the pot. Well, I was right to be a little intrigued because Martin Boyd was not a potter … but his nephew Guy was! As Judith, of Australian Pottery, wrote in her blog:

… Merric’s younger brother Martin (1893-1972) was a writer not a potter, but his name lives on in the Sydney-based Martin Boyd Pottery set up by [Merric’s son] Guy with partners Norma and Leonard Flegg in 1946. Guy was training as a sculptor at the East Sydney Technical College (ESTC) after the war and needed an interim source of income. He returned to Melbourne in 1951 but the Fleggs continued to operate the Martin Boyd Pottery as a successful venture until overseas imports put it out of business in 1963 (Dorothy Johnston, The Peoples’ Potteries, pp. 87-91).

So there you have it … nephew Guy Boyd set up a pottery. But, of course, this begs the question: Why did he call it Martin Boyd Pottery? Well, it’s a complicated business. Guy Boyd’s full name was Guy Martin à Beckett Boyd (and, in fact, Martin’s was Martin à Beckett Boyd). According to Kathryn Chisholm in the June 2007 issue of the Friends’ Magazine of National Museum of Australia, “the name was chosen from Guy Boyd’s middle name ‘Martin’ as he preferred to keep his first name for his sculptural work”. However, Chisholm continues, his uncle Martin Boyd was “never happy having his name also associated with pottery, as he found it embarrassing”. David, co-owner of Australian Pottery at Bemboka, told us that the official line is that Martin, who was overseas at the time of the pottery’s establishment, was “bemused” but that in truth his feelings were somewhat stronger. (I think it’s time I read Brenda Niall’s biographies Martin Boyd and The Boyds: A Family Biography.)

Martin Boyd Pottery ramekin

Martin Boyd Pottery ramekin

Anyhow, back to the pot I bought. I chose a ramekin, partly because it reminded me of my 1960s childhood and partly because it is a lovely little piece. As Judith wrote in her blog, ramekins were

… a mainstay of the Guy Boyd and AMB Potteries. This form was simple to throw and decorate. The handle also lends aplomb, particularly when incorporated seamlessly into the form and decoration. We haven’t been able to resist setting up a ramekin collecting sideline …

And, there is something about a ramekin, isn’t there? Ramekin is a word (and object) I grew up with but, until now, I’d never thought about the derivation of the word. So, I looked it up and this is what I found:

French Ramequin from Low German ramken, diminutive of cream, circa 1706. middle Dutch rammeken (cheese dish) dialect variant of rom (cream), similar to old English ream and German rahm. Ancient French cookbooks refer to ramekins as being garnished fried bread.

From here the word came to describe a small heatproof bowl, sometimes with a handle, used for a single serving of a hot dish. They were usually sold in sets of 4 or 6. (Mr Gums and I received a couple of ramekin sets as wedding gifts in the late 1970s). I will not, however, be putting my new ramekin in the oven … but next time reading group comes to my place, they will be served nuts in a bowl signed by Martin Boyd. Or not, as the case may be! But why spoil a story for the sake of the truth …

Australian Pottery at Bemboka

Looking out from Australian Pottery at Bemboka

Thanks Judith and David for a lovely day … and for inspiring this somewhat different Monday Musings.

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Martin Boyd, Writer or Potter?

    • Thanks Stefanie … It was a lovely time and the weather did us proud. Spring can be so erratic with awful winds but this day was nigh perfect. A bit of a breeze in the am but not too much and the temp was perfect.

  1. Exactly! Why spoil a good story with the truth? Great story and I also love pottery, especially 1970s chunky pieces in tertiary colours. Makes my childhood flood back.

    Although I confess I had never heard of a ramekin before !!

    • Knew a novelist would agree with that … But not an historian perhaps! The exhibition has some dark orange canisters … We overheard one festival goer say that she knew those from her mother’s 70s kitchen! I remarked to my friend that they were OUR kitchens … Mid to Late 70s anyhow.

      Ramekin … Your comment reminds me of Kate Grenville’s talk at last week’s Readers’ Festival … Now you’ve heard of them you’ll know to research them if you ever wanted to write an historical fiction about a 60s or so woman! Do people not use them now … Or call them something else? Anyhow, it’s a lovely word isn’t it?

  2. Annoyed certainly might have been a better word. On his return to Australia in 1948, He was asked by the press how he found time for writing as well as pottery.

  3. Sue, you would enjoy David Boyd’s memoir An Open House: Recollections of my Early life. A great family story about the Boyds.


  4. I’ve read the Brenda Niall biography on the Boyds, and I enjoyed it immensely. She deals with such a broad canvas by focusing on the places where the families lived and this works really well. Because I’ve also read the Martin Boyd novels, I could relate the real locations with his fictional ones, which gave an added depth to the experience.

    • Have you read others … And if you have how would you assess them against each other?

      BTW I used my ramekin last night for my marinated olives which, if I remember correctly, was a recipe I got from you in the 1980s!

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